News & Discoveries


Howard Hughes Medical Institute Names 4 UCSF Researchers as Faculty Scholars

The four UCSF researchers are Edward Chang, MD, professor of neurological surgery in the School of Medicine; Chang studies how the brain interprets verbal communication. His research reveals a major role for the brain’s superior temporal gyrus region in speech perception, and may shed light on the neural circuitry involved in language learning.




Michael Brainard Elected to American Academy Arts and Sciences

Dr. Brainard is one of 213 new members elected to the 2016 class of the American Academy Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1780, the Academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.



The Kavli Foundation and University Partners Commit $100 Million to Brain Research

From the UCSF News Center: A newly established neuroscience research institute based at
UC San Francisco will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of plasticity, the brain’s remarkable capacity to modify its own structure and function. To accomplish its goals, the newly established Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience (Kavli IFN), a partnership of The Kavli Foundation and UCSF, will forge new collaborations among neuroscientists, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists to devise innovative technologies for brain research.


The Kavli IFN is being established with a $20 million endorsement created by both The Kavli Foundation and UCSF, plus additional start-up funding. This endowment is part of a newly announced commitment of more than $100 million by the Foundation and its many university partners to accelerate research aimed at deepening our understanding of the brain and brain-related disorders, such as traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.


“The study of brain plasticity is an area where UCSF has been a leader for many, many years,” said Loren Frank, PhD, professor of physiology, who will service as the new institute’s inaugural co-director along with Roger Nicoll, MD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and of physiology. “At the Kavli IFN, we’re going to take a problem that we’re experts in and try to unite that with the computational and technological abilities of other groups to make what we hope will be very fundamental progress.”


Read The Kavli Foundation announcement here.



Dr. Loren Frank receives Excellence in Teaching Award 2015

The Haile T. Debas Academy of Medical Educators’ Excellence in Teaching Awards were established in 2005. These are peer-nominated awards for UCSF teaching faculty, intended to highlight outstanding front-line teachers of medical students, residents, and fellows at all UCSF teaching sites who might otherwise go unrecognized.



Dr. Edward Chang Named 2015 Blavatnik Laureate in Life Sciences

Chang’s award is one of three Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, which are given annually by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and administered by The New York Academy of Sciences, which said that the prizes “honor the nation’s most exceptional young scientists and engineers, celebrating their extraordinary achievements and recognizing their outstanding promise while providing an unparalleled prize of $250,000 to each National Laureate, the largest unrestricted cash award given to early career scientists.”



Cheng, Frank Among 26 New HHMI Investigators

Loren Frank, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology, and Yifan Cheng, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, are the two honorees from UCSF. The new HHMI investigators – including four current HHMI early career scientists – were selected for their individual scientific excellence from a group of 894 eligible applicants.



IMHRO Assistant Professor Receives BRAIN Initiative Award

Dr. Vikaas Sohal received an NIH BRAIN Initiative award to target mouse neurons to stimulate to remedy disease.



New Venture Aims to Understand and Heal Disrupted Brain Circuitry to Treat Mental Illnesses

A team of scientists and physicians led by UC San Francisco is launching a $26 million project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to map the human brain circuits that go awry in neuropsychiatric disorders and employ advanced technology to correct these patterns. UCSF neurosurgeon Edward F. Chang, MD, team leader on the new project and a world leader in the use of brain recording technology for the surgical treatment of epilepsy.

“There are millions of people for whom these disorders are not well treated. These patients are often not able to keep their jobs or to work at all, because they’re constantly struggling with symptoms of their illnesses and the pain and suffering they cause,” said team member Vikaas Sohal, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF. “This project offers hope because it’s a totally new way of seeing how the parts of the brain interact in mental illness. It’s as if we’ve been looking at still images of actors but will now be able to see the performance of a play.”



2013 Cozzarelli Prize Recipients

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has recognizes Satoshi Kojima PhD , Mimi H. Kao PhD and Allison J. Doupe MD, PhD,  as the 2013 Cozzarelli Prize Recipients



A Beautiful Mind

In Adam Gazzaley’s new lab, the brain is a kaleidoscope of colors, bursting and pulsing in real time to the rhythm of electronic music.

The mesmerizing visual on the screen is a digital masterpiece – but the UC San Francisco neuroscientist has a much bigger aspiration than just creating art. He wants this to lead to treatments for a variety of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, autism and multiple sclerosis.



UCSF’s New Neuroscape Lab



UCSF Study Shows How the Brain Sorts Sound to Make Language

Scientists at UCSF have uncovered some tantalizing clues into the complex process of how the brain hears and interprets human voices, and transforms an influx of meaningless sounds into language.

Their work, which was published online Thursday, involved studying the brains of patients with epilepsy undergoing testing to help stop their seizures.



UCSF Team Reveals How the Brain Recognizes Speech Sounds

Now, in the Jan. 30 edition of Science Express, the fast-tracked online version of the journal Science, the UCSF team reports that the brain does not respond to the individual sound segments known as phonemes – such as the b sound in “boy” – but is instead exquisitely tuned to detect simpler elements, which are known to linguists as “features.”

This organization may give listeners an important advantage in interpreting speech, the researchers said, since the articulation of phonemes varies considerably across speakers, and even in individual speakers over time.

The work may add to our understanding of reading disorders, in which printed words are imperfectly mapped onto speech sounds. But because speech and language are a defining human behavior, the findings are significant in their own right, said UCSF neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Edward F. Chang, MD, senior author of the new study.



Pradel Research Award

Two UCSF faculty members have been honored by the National Academy of Sciences for their “extraordinary scientific achievements." Joseph DeRisi, PhD, who won the Carty Award, and Allison Doupe, MD, PhD, who won the Pradel Research Award, join 13 others in the fields of physical, biological and social sciences.



Jadhav and Ma Receive the Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has awarded The Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience to Shantanu P. Jadhav, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Dengke K. Ma, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The award recognizes two promising young scientists for outstanding research and educational pursuit in an international setting. It is supported by The Gruber Foundation and includes $25,000 for each recipient. The award was presented during Neuroscience 2013, SfN’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.



Training the Older Brain in 3-D: Video Game Enhances Cognitive Control

Scientists at UC San Francisco are reporting that they have found a way to reverse some of the negative effects of aging on the brain, using a video game designed to improve cognitive control. The findings, published on Sept. 5 in Nature, show that a specially designed 3-D video game can improve cognitive performance in healthy older adults, they said. The researchers said the study provides a measure of scientific support to the burgeoning field of brain fitness, which has been criticized for lacking evidence that such training can induce lasting and meaningful changes. Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, UCSF, Associate Professor of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry and Director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center.  Gazzaley co-founded the company, Akili Interactive Labs, which is developing the next generation of the video game.



Alcohol Addiction Relapse Might Be Thwarted by Turning off Brain Trigger

Researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco have been able to identify and deactivate a brain pathway linked to memories that cause alcohol cravings in rats, a finding that may one day lead to a treatment option for people who suffer from alcohol abuse disorders and other addictions. In the study, researchers were able to prevent the addicted animals from seeking alcohol and drinking it, the equivalent of relapse.

“One of the main causes of relapse is craving, triggered by the memory by certain cues – like going into a bar, or the smell or taste of alcohol,” said lead author Segev Barak, PhD, at the time a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of co-senior author Dorit Ron, PhD, a Gallo Center investigator and UCSF professor of neurology. “We learned that when rats were exposed to the smell or taste of alcohol, there was a small window of opportunity to target the area of the brain that reconsolidates the memory of the craving for alcohol and to weaken or even erase the memory, and thus the craving” he said. The study, also supervised by co-senior author Patricia H. Janak, PhD, a Gallo Center investigator and UCSF professor of neurology, was published online on June 23 in Nature Neuroscience.



Howard Hughes Medical Institute Names Two UCSF Scientists as New Investigators

Two UCSF scientists — brain researcher Michael Brainard, PhD, and cell biologist Dyche Mullins, PhD — have been selected to be Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators. The appointments become effective in September and will increase the number of current HHMI investigators at UCSF to 17 and to 353 nationwide. HHMI, a nonprofit medical research organization headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., announced on May 9 that Brainard and Mullins were among 27 new investigators selected from among 1,155 applicants. 



Secrets of Human Speech Uncovered

A team of researchers at UC San Francisco has uncovered the neurological basis of speech motor control, the complex coordinated activity of tiny brain regions that controls our lips, jaw, tongue and larynx as we speak. Described this week in the journal Nature, the work has potential implications for developing computer-brain interfaces for artificial speech communication and for the treatment of speech disorders. It also sheds light on an ability that is unique to humans among living creatures but poorly understood. “Speaking is so fundamental to who we are as humans – nearly all of us learn to speak,” said senior author Edward Chang, MD, a neurosurgeon at the UCSF Epilepsy Center and a faculty member in the UCSF Center for Integrative Neuroscience. “But it’s probably the most complex motor activity we do.”



Light Exposure during Pregnancy Key to Normal Eye Development

Lang is a principal investigator on the ongoing research along with project collaborator, David Copenhagen, PhD, a scientist in the departments of Ophthalmology and Physiology at UCSF. The scientists say their current study, conducted in mouse models, includes several unexpected findings. "Several stages of mouse eye development occur after birth," says Copenhagen. "Because of this, we had always assumed that if light played a role in the development of the eye, it would also happen only after birth."